“The Good Lord said, ‘Keep your eye on the prize,'” Gordon said.
His prize: a college degree.
So when times got tough on or off the court, Gordon focused on that ultimate goal. He went to the library more. He read more. He studied more. That gave him distraction in the present and hope for the future.
It worked; Gordon thrived.
The 6-foot-1, 172-pound guard became the best defender on the Cowboys' roster.
“Although most of the time having to give up 3 to 5 inches in height,” the Daily O'Collegian wrote in March 1961 before his last home game as a senior, “Gordon has been excellent on his guarding assignments.”
Later that spring, Gordon received his bachelor's degree in secondary education.
He would later earn an MBA from the University of Memphis and a master's in physical education from Texas Southern.
Gordon became a teacher and basketball coach at the high school and college levels. He coached much of his five decades back in his hometown of Memphis.
He credits OSU for giving him an opportunity that led to a life in basketball.
“I made good of it,” he said. “I was just so blessed.”
L.C. Gordon returned to the OSU campus a year ago. He was in town for a charity golf tournament — he's been retired for a decade and plays golf three or four days a week — and he decided to head over to Gallagher-Iba Hall, where his old coach's name now shares the sign.
He ran into a scout for the Portland Trail Blazers who happened to be in the gym, and they struck up a conversation.
The scout asked who Gordon was there to watch.
“I'm not a scout,” Gordon told him. “I'm the first black player to play for Oklahoma State. I'm here just to watch practice.”
“You've got to be kidding,” the scout told him.
He called over one of the assistant coaches.
“You've got a celebrity here,” the scout told him.
The assistant introduced Gordon to head coach Travis Ford, who asked him to stay and address the team after practice.
“When were you here?” one of the players asked.
“I came here in 1957,” Gordon told them.
“Woooo, that was a long time ago. It must've been rough then.”
“Yeah, it was, but let me tell you something. Everybody cannot play pro ball. Everybody is not going to get that opportunity. You get something in your head. When you get something in your head, can't nobody take it away from you.”
Gordon is proud of what he learned and what he did at OSU.
He's proud, too, of his alma mater for what it did for him. He helped organize the Memphis OSU Alumni Chapter and is a life member of the OSU Alumni Association.
Even with all of that involvement, he was surprised when he learned that he was being honored as this year's trailblazer.
His church family in Memphis celebrated the news one Sunday by putting it on the big screen in the sanctuary. As people applauded and rejoiced around him, tears started flowing down Gordon's face.
“I couldn't help from crying,” he said. “They just didn't know the joy that was in me.
“Basketball has been good to me.”
And L.C. Gordon has been good for it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
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I jumped at the opportunity to play for a man of that stature. I was so happy that I was able to play for him.”